The Writing Life

DEBRIEF: Publishing Two Books!

Bako KuchingThis is a view of Bako National Park in Kuching, Borneo, home to millions of flora and fauna many of which are still undiscovered and unknown to humans. It seems the opposite of the Hong Kong in the photo below, yet both of these places are where Cry of the Flying Rhino was born.IMG_9230

Publishing Cry of the Flying Rhino traditionally and publishing Heart of Glass through Crowdfunding:

Before my book launch in Hong Kong, Borneo-based US author of Lovers and Strangers, Robert Raymer, had talked to me about having two books out not quite but nearly at once after writing for so many decades. We discussed both traditional publishing and the crowdfunded system ofpublishing for Heart of Glass. I was very chuffed that Robert had written the advance commentary for my book Cry of the Flying Rhino. I had admired his writing from a very long time ago, in fact, 31 years to be exact, when I first met him. I was a 17 year old schoolgirl and I had just won my first “prize” in writing, which was a Writer’s Workshop in Kuala Lumpur. It was the second time I submitted a short story to the New Straits Times for a competition and the first time I won anything in my life or travelled to the capital city on my own. Therefore it was a rite of passage for me. I read Robert’s books when I was a young adult (in those days there was no such thing as YA fiction). You are either an adult or not an adult.

The magic of writing and the beauty of ideas all begin in the mind, in the imagination. One day it is somewhere else, in someone else’s mind and imagination. Read Robert’s post after the book launch, where a book about Borneo finally arrives in Borneo in the very place where the novel is set!

Check out my SHOP where you can purchase SIGNED FIRST LIMITED EDITIONS of Cry of the Flying Rhino. Find out why this book won outright for the first time in 9 years of the International Proverse Prize competition.

USEFUL LINKS

If you would like unsigned copies, please go to

Paperback: amazon.com
Paperback: amazon.co.uk
Kindle eBook: US

Kindle eBook UK 

NEW author pages! See below:
Amazon author’s page
Goodreads author’s page

GREAT NEWS: Cry of the Flying Rhino now available, paperback, ebook

IMG_9368NEW: Cry of the Flying Rhino LIMITED EDITION, FIRST EDITION, SIGNED is now available in my online SHOP:

Find out why this book won outright for the first time in 9 years of the Proverse Prize competition. Check out my online SHOP for a LIMITED EDITION, FIRST EDITION, SIGNED COPY of Cry of the Flying Rhino and other books.

UK £16.75 including first class postage
Rest of world £22.50 / USD29.81 / SGD40.34

**UPDATE**: I can/will/should gift wrap if you say it’s a gift. ”Tis the gifting season.

Note: There are a handful of SIGNED copies already in Australia with my brother. Postage will be less, or nothing, for the lucky AUSSIES who would like a SIGNED first edition.

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Note also: If you are in LONDON and would like to save on postage, it is £14 for a SIGNED first edition, but we have to meet in person.

They are also on Amazon UK and Amazon USA as ebook and paperback, but naturally unsigned as I am not sitting in the Amazon factory signing away. Though sometimes I wish I was.

“Anyone impressed, anyone imprinted upon and inspired by Lalwani, Roy, Chatterjee, Burgess, Lowry or Orwell, will be correspondingly affected by Ngeow.” – Professor Jason S. Polley, Department of English, Hong Kong Baptist University

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SNEAK PREVIEW: The Helena May Club book launch venue Hong Kong

room-blue_room-bToday’s inspo: just wanted to share these photos of the 1916 venue of the book launch and prize ceremony. This is the Blue Room where the event will be held. I am very excited to be launching my award-winning postcolonial novel Cry of the Flying Rhino here! Originally built for the protection of women’s rights,. I think it’s going to be a symbolic, meaningful and once in a lifetime experience and one that I will treasure forever or at least until I have senile dementia. The Helena May is a historic post WWI building and it is fully restored. It is built in the classical colonial villa style with the articulated frieze consisting of dentil corbelling at the cornice level and the Italianate balustrading on all levels. The entrance portico has a curved pediment and the classical entrance columns are of the Corinthian order. The windows are casement and have no articulation. On the street elevation, There are flattened arched openings on the ground and first level from which the windows are set back in a gallery-style colonnade.

During WWII (the Japanese occupation) the building was used by the Japanese forces as stables for their horses! After the war, in 1947, the Royal Air Force took over the building. Disclaimer: I wrote all this architectural analysis myself, so if there are any errors in terminology, well, tough.)

“The Helena May was founded in 1916 and named after Lady May, the wife of Sir Henry May, Governor of Hong Kong at the time. Funded largely through the generosity of two local philanthropists, Sir Ellis Kadoorie and Mr. Ho Kom Tong, CBE, it was originally established to support women living and working away from home, and contributing to the Hong Kong community. Lady May’s original vision, enshrined in the organisation’s constitution, is central to today’s community outreach programme which focuses on the needs of women and girls living in Hong Kong.”

“From the outset, The Helena May has been an organisation for women led by women. The driving force was Lady May who, as President of the Y.W.C.A and mother of four daughters, was very aware of the lack of facilities for women and girls in Hong Kong. She provided leadership and direction to The Helena May in the early years that set a strong foundation.”

HK_TheHelenaMay HM club HM club blue room HM room-garden-b

REVIEW: Write and Edit a Short Story Weekend Workshop 7-8 October 2017 @londonlitlab

I was very pleased to have applied for this course. It was just the thing I needed – the luxury of writing. I am not interested in posh hotel breaks or spa treats. What attracted me was the quality of the teaching staff. Zoe Gilbert and Lily Dunn are not only published writers, they are also lecturers. The venue is an eclectic warehouse conversion and extension in Clapton Ponds, East London. The place itself, which you enter through a subtropical courtyard garden, was quite inspiring and filled with natural light and interesting objets d’arts. There were ten people on the course all at different levels of writing. They were all women so it was like a hen weekend for women writers.

On the first day, we did P1050983 P1050984 P1050990P1050991 a couple of word games to warm up, followed by ‘jumping straight in’. You can either use and existing idea or try out a new one using images and articles provided. I tried out a new idea. I originally chose two photos and tried to make up a story but it was already like another story. Cautious not to waste any of my 6 hours of time on that day, I decided to use the other option to generate idea – using articles from newspaper and magazines.

I found a copy of New Scientist and dropped it on the ground. On whatever page it flew open, I read the entire two pages and had found something that sparked an idea. On that day itself I wrote 3,000 words of a first draft I would never have been able to do at home.

Throughout the course we were given plenty of handouts to take away and to study. These are very useful and I will be referring to them again and again as they are very concise and well-written. There were plenty of opportunities for discussion and debate. Zoe and Lily are very encouraging and helpful. They even brought in their own work to crit, so we can learn by doing. On the Sunday morning we were given formal taught lessons in writing. This is all very precious salient stuff and I will revisit my course notes again. After lunch we worked on editing and I edited a story I wrote a few months ago but it was too long to be done at one go (5,000 words) and I also found a way of producing a climactic ending.

Lunch on both days was homemade soup. It was very tasty vegetarian soup with accompaniments of salad, bread, cheese, pickle and chutneys. It was very healthy as there was no dessert! I am a very bad cook so I have no idea what soups they were. After a few days I recovered from the intensity and hard work. I am ready to edit the story I wrote there and I cannot wait to share it once I have got it right. I would recommend this course to anybody, beginner or advanced, who is keen in an intense burst of writing, or to kickstart writing after a hiatus like myself.

CRY OF THE FLYING RHINO Sneak Preview: Doing my Bit for Postcolonial Literature:

Heart of Glass: Front cover done. Back blurb in progress.

Some delays in August because I was torn between two cover options both of which I liked. Now we’re done being torn. Very exciting. Clue: 1980s! Yes!  In sports news, Cry of the Flying Rhino: Hong Kong – the prize giving ceremony and launch is now only 4 weeks away!

I have been living in Hong Kong time and refuelling on carbs, waking at 2 or 3 am to do live edits and emails in order to not lose a day each time an email comes from the publishers. The 4 rounds of edits are done now. I’ve designed the cover, prepared a Sino-Malay glossary, a map of South East Asia (aside: after Illustrator crashed at 5 am, had to have a go in Photoshop). You don’t realise what goes on backstage. Months and months of prep, and before that, years and years of writing.

Forget the lip gloss. This is the harsh terrain of pre-press. I climb a small mountain every day.

Before you say Mazel Tov,  this book has some history because it was written 12 years ago, been through 14 drafts, and “many” rejections and you know why? It is a bit controversial. Not very, just a bit. Many, many times I wanted to delete it from my hard drive and throw the damn thing away. What saved me from doing it was the voice over my shoulder. Cry raises uneasy themes like race, religion, class struggle, colonisation, diversity, poverty, capitalism, exploitation. All my pet topics, all-in-one.  They are under-represented in English fiction, especially by non-English writers for whom English is a second language.  The themes in Heart of Glass are: imprisonment, greed, displacement, cultural identity. I only speak the truth, dressed up in fiction. I express myself best through music and fiction. 

Some inciting images. These fascinating images sparked off a million ideas before one or two story threads led to writing Cry. I first saw this image of girls tattooing girls and also a photo of this sign on my one trip to Borneo:

I am thrilled that the judges of the prize can see the truth and my point. That is actually the real prize for me, not the prize itself. There’s a door I’ve opened. Through Heart of Glass, I have gained your support and my voice may at last be heard. The next update on Heart of Glass will be very soon. As usual your comments are welcome.

A Slacker’s Lesson in Promotion

FSF

1/ Someone once said “Writing is Showbusiness for the Shy”.

Events/talks/gigs to promote one’s paperbacks is quite a nice thing to do if you are a) young or b) young at heart or c) have tons of time or d) all of the above ideally. As I am having a déjà vu, this method is not commercially viable, sustainable or cost-efficient for me.

2/ Lessons from Satsuma:
In the good old days of the 90s and 00s, I was gigging with my band Satsuma and in those days people actually bought CDs. I know. At times we played to 5 people and at times 500. You would still put your 110% into it like every gig is your last ever gig. You could sell between 0 to 40 CDs per gig. If you don’t lose money per gig, you’re laughing.

3/ Highs:
Actual sales, new and old fans, actual gigs, photos shoots, stylists, cover design, interviews, excitement, adrenalin. Remember this is the only thing that the audience sees and wants to see.

4/ Lows (time, energy and costs):
Travel, the hours and hours in the rehearsal rooms, recording your EP, five hour sound checks, the travel time and journeys through every kind of weather, loading and unloading at all hours of night or day, flat tyres at 1 am in the icy rain. Nothing is quick, even when I was driving the van, which saves time and money for everybody else. All of this takes an astronomical amount of time and energy, which I no longer have due to having young children and two jobs and a few time-frittering hobbies.

5/ Sour grapes:
The only worse thing than being a complete non-success is a tiny bit of success because that lured us into the belief that there was hope in any of it and therefore more and more time, money and energy should be recycled and ploughed back into gigging and promotion. At some point the balance must have tipped because I was unable to write any more songs. You can burn out from promotion and marketing (and this is before social media). There is no end to it. As someone from the late Slacker generation which is of course in itself a total farce, I may still uphold an optimistic yet cynical view of promotion because I am still constantly figuring out what to do by doing.

6/ Lessons from Hong Kong:
“Yeah, whatever.” Said the Slacker. Despite being on the Unbound and the HK publisher’s conveyor belts, I cannot figure it out. There is no right or wrong. The HK guys say a different thing altogether from Unbound forum. Their view in one line: Forget social media. Stick to word of mouth. Have more parties, sell more books. If books don’t sell, write more books, have more parties. Wanna be a writer? Write more books. Wanna sell books? Write more books. Wanna win a prize? Write more books.

7/ Lessons from crowdfunding:

The Unbound publishing model works for the author because through crowdfunding an author already has shifted between 190 to 300 books. That is more books than you will sell at any gig!

The Brief Crowdfunding Pitch De-Brief

So you have pitched and now you are wondering how the hell did I do?

1. On the pitching letter. Make it pithy and make each one the best letter you ever wrote. If you know them v well, aim for the heart. Go deeper. Ask how Anna’s Grade V piano exam went and how James’ operation in July went for instance. This is to show you have a very good memory. A pitch is not a friendly email and a friendly email is not a pitch. Each pitch has to be tailor-made. The hello how are you is very impersonal and could be cut and pasted from another pitch. If you are close to them, then show them that this project is close to you by being specific. If you don’t know them very well, see this other post, Your Crowdfunding Pitch Letter.

2. On being ignored. Do not take it personally. It’s sales so it’s irritating for both seller and buyer. I understand what you’re going through, it’s very hard to stomach it. We have all suffered. “A moment of optimism will save you a hundred days of sorrow”- Chinese proverb

3. On rejections- it’s to do with courses for horses – naturally your own project is close to you but literally no one cares and no one is thinking about it.. E.g. 1 More than half of my close family on my mother’s side are all born again serious religious types. Why would/should they support my book about immorality and the life of excess in the west?! I respect them for that.
E.g. 2 You may have made the best banana cake in the world but if they don’t like bananas and/or they don’t like cake they will just not buy your product. There is no try before you buy. Therefore in your pitch you have to work out why they need to fund this project. It could be as simple as they like you and they want to support you. In fact I recall many instances where I end up buying some beauty product I don’t even want or like because I really like the seller and I bonded with her/him. Also eco, yes, sustainable, yes, ok whatever, I’ll just shut up and hand over my credit card. What usually sounds good is probably good.

4. It’s just statistics or a numbers game. If you ask 100 people to a party and thirty say yes then that’s not a bad return. If you increase that to a thousand and three hundred say yes then you’ve got it! It’s a party!

5. There is no 5. Just go back to the Thing about the moment of optimism.

Your Crowdfunding Pitch Letter

The letter needs to be pithy and to the point. Short direct pitches work better cos firstly people have no time and secondly they have no patience. It should be in three paragraphs only.

The first paragraph:

Introduce your product and what it is. Learn to cut out all that “how are you hope you’re well” nonsense. I was told that unless you can be specific about people’s children’s names, get straight to the point. They will sniff out the sales pitch so you might as well pitch. “Hi, I’ve written this book called “I am Dying Here” about blah blah and I’m crowdfunding it with my publisher So and So.. etc ”

The second paragraph:

Explain why they should support you. It could be you know them or can find some connection between you as the seller and them as the buyer. It could be you don’t know them but you share an interest. You are identifying them as your tribe. Here is where creative writing is useful. You can say, I am poor, I am new. I have never done this but I am trying. There are so many reasons and you just have to be straightforward and honest and just pick maximum three. I am poor and I am new at this counts as two. You like banana cake? You like cake? Well I am selling banana cake. It is the best. You like post-punk clothes and accessories? Well actually I am selling post-punk clothes and accessories. Whatever it is that they are into, you must find it and tap in. Don’t think about yourself. Don’t think what you are into. Think what they are into.

The third paragraph:

Explain how they can support you. Give them the cheapest way they can support you and easily. Tell them that it starts at 10£ (as in my case crowdfunding my book). Forget the rest of the reward levels. Just forget it. Don’t try to upsell people when this is simply a consumer item. You are trying to get numbers as it is a numbers game. You are not selling a single luxury handbag for £6,000. This is a cheap thing. Most people I know have no money so why worry them that there are levels. If they have more than 10£ then great. They will give more once they trust you and your tactics. Trust is worth more than love. They don’t have to love you or your product but they must trust you in order to hand over cold hard cash or card.

Lastly, it’s not very obvious but think and write clearly. The clearer you think before you write the better your writing will be (this is true of all writing). Do not ever wander out of the context of the pitch. See also Your Crowdfunding Pitch De-Brief.

If you want me to check over your pitch, I will be happy to do so. Of course, I am no expert. No one is. They all learn from experience. Those who say they are experts are charlatans. They are selling snake oil. How can anyone be an expert when I just explained to you every single pitch is tailor-made, customised for each customer? No two customers are alike. Unless you are selling phone covers, no two creative products are alike. Would you think that as a customer you are exactly like someone else of a different age, gender, from somewhere else in the world? No! We are all unique. Therefore every pitch must be made unique and hit the heart and the mind of your intended customer with utmost precision.

Editing, schmediting and COVER DESIGN!

FSF

I have been working on the cover design with the graphic designer who has designed bestsellers like The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith and Marina Lewycka’s A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian. As a designer myself, I find it both easy and hard to take the back seat and let someone do the driving. I’ve even done a moodboard, see below, as the designer inside me always kicks in when you don’t want it to, like at 5 am. The last update I wrote was 24 May just before half term break. I seem to be making updates just before the end of term. Today is the last week of term. Subliminally I don’t know if I will survive school holidays. That is why I have to do my updates just before school breaks up. Question time: “Where’s. Me. Book. Where’s. Your. Book. Where’s. OUR. book.” Answer: It will be out soon – follow these updates closely from now. The clock is ticking. Baby will arrive soon. Parents, be brave! Writers, be braver!

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